A controversial documentary that claims to link autism to vaccines has been pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival after festival cofounder Robert De Niro took heat for engineering the movie’s world premiere.
The actor, who initially said the New York festival would premiere Vaxxed: From Conspiracy to Cover-up in April to provide “the opportunity for a conversation around the issue,” expressed concerns about the film’s content in a statement Saturday:
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.
The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”
De Niro has a child with autism and initially pushed for the film to be screened at the festival, a step he says he had never taken in the 15 years since the event was founded. De Niro did not specify Saturday what the festival’s concerns were about the film.
Critics, many from the science community, cried foul when De Niro defended his decision to support the screening in order to springboard a conversation about the issue.
Andrew Wakefield, the documentary’s director, authored a study in 1998, which was later retracted, that pointed to vaccinations as a cause of autism. That study is considered to be a catalyst for the anti-vaccine movement. Wakefield was stripped of his UK medical license in 2010 for acting “dishonestly and irresponsibly” while conducting experiments for the retracted study.
Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree posted a statement on the Vaxxed website responding to the Tribeca removal.
The Tribeca screening would have given the documentary legitimacy, critics claimed, although De Niro initially shrugged off that complaint.
“I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue,” he said in a statement Friday.
The anti-vaccine movement has grown in recent years, with a major outbreak of measles at Disneyland last year shining a bright spotlight on the cause. As anti-vaxxers grow louder, so do their critics, pumping up the controversy. After the measles outbreak, California tightened vaccine requirements, eliminating personal and religious exemptions.